By: Justin Felisko
November 05, 2016
LAS VEGAS – Cooper Davis ran, and hobbled, across the dirt and hopped onto the concert stage inside T-Mobile Arena and raised his fists into the air.
Davis had just ridden Hammer Down for 88.5 points to move himself one step closer toward the 2016 World Championship, but, more importantly, kept him alive in the 2016 world title race.
Technically, Davis didn’t need a qualified ride to stay in contention for his first gold buckle, but the No. 2 bull rider in the world knew a second consecutive buckoff would prove disastrous in his $1 million championship pursuit.
“Absolutely,” Davis said. “It is up there as far as bulls I have been on. I knew I had to come in here and stay on my bulls if I wanted to stay in this race. I can’t expect those guys to fall off any of their bulls.
Case and point was world leader Kaique Pacheco’s answer to Davis’ ride two minutes after Davis’ had taken over the world lead for a hot second.
Pacheco won Round 3 with 89 points on Crazy Horse to extend his lead to 207.83 points over Davis.
Both riders are 2-for-3, but Davis ranks highest among the world title contenders in the event average.
The event average winner earns 1,500 points and the two riders, as well as J.B. Mauney, who is now 825.33 points behind Pacheco after his Round 3 buckoff against Legacy, are one bull ride behind current event leaders Ty Pozzobon, Ryan Dirteater and Valdiron de Oliveira.
That could end up being the difference between which rider hoists the PBR World Championship trophy on Sunday afternoon.
It is what made Round 3 so crucial for Davis.
Mauney began the night one bull ahead of Davis and Pacheco, but his buckoff opened the door for the two young superstars to get back to two qualified rides on the board at the Finals.
“That is a big part of it,” Davis said. “(Kaique) is ahead of it right now (in the standings), but I don’t know if it ended today how it would end up. I am not looking at that. I am just staying on bulls. We will just look at it on Sunday.”
Davis, Pacheco and Mauney are sitting fifth, sixth and seventh in the event average and are separated by only 3.25 points in the event average standings.
Every bull ride will be that much more important on Saturday and on championship Sunday.
They have two rides left, and possibly three if they qualify for the championship round, to win the World Championship.
Davis takes on Dead Calm (8-2, BFTS) in Round 4 on Saturday night.
Pacheco rode Dead Calm for 89 points to win the 15/15 Bucking Battle in Eugene, Oregon, last month.
Fans can watch all of the action on CBS Sports Network and PBR LIVE beginning at 10:30 p.m. ET.
“I am not putting any pressure on myself,” Davis said. “It is a bull that got his milk like the rest of them and a situation I have been in before. I am just taking it like that.”
The reality is, this is a new situation for Davis, though.
Yes, he won the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals by going 4-for-6, but this year the stakes are much greater.
Davis, who had his left ankle stepped on by Hammer Down forcing him to ice it heavily, showed on Friday that this stage and world title race is not too big for the 5-foot-9 inch bull rider from Jasper, Texas.
He arrived at T-Mobile Arena with a determined snarl on his face Friday night. Davis didn’t smile much at all until he heard the 8-second buzzer sound.
He certainly hadn’t forgotten about his Round 3 buckoff against David’s Dream, and he was no way ready to let Mauney or Pacheco walk away with the world title.
“Well, nothing really to block out,” Davis said. “I did my job today. I will keep doing my job and hopefully everything will pan out like it is supposed to.”
Heading into the World Finals Davis admitted it has been a bit of a whirlwind competing alongside the bull rider he grew up idolizing as a kid.
Davis was 12 years old when Mauney qualified for his first World Finals (2006).
“I wouldn’t say it is weird, but it is what you expect,” Davis said last month. “You do have to pinch yourself sometimes and say, ‘Well, this is as big as it gets and as big of a platform there is.’ At the same time, you have to maintain your composure and I am trying to ride that fine line. We will see where it goes.”
The path Davis is currently on could intersect with another magical Mauney performance in Las Vegas.
In 2013, Mauney used a dominant World Finals to rally from behind to unseat reigning champ Silvano Alves.
He now needs a similar herculean effort if he wants to win a third world title after losing the driver’s seat on Friday night with his buckoff.
Mauney has two days left to overcome his 825.33-point deficit.
The defending World Champion is likely going to need to win at least one round win and a high-finish in the event average to win the 2016 championship based on how his challengers are riding.
Mauney said before the World Finals during a CBS Sports Network television production meeting the championship would be decided on Sunday.
“I don’t think age plays a part in it,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to play any different. I have been here a few more times than they have been. The situation they are in, I have been in it a few more times, but they ride good enough that it won’t affect them. It will come down to the last day.”
Mauney has 16 career 90-point rides and 15 round wins – an average of 1.5 per World Finals.
Therefore, you still can’t rule him out.
“You can’t forget about him,” Davis said. “We are the ones trying to prove our self, and he has already done it. I think it is why it is such a big deal about us. We expect him to go do his part. We have to just keep up and do ours at the same time.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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